Resourceful Records Managers #1: Laurence Brewer

Below is the inaugural interview in our new monthly RMS series Resourceful Records Managers.  If you are interested in sharing your journey as a Records Manager please contact me at jgd1(at)williams(dot)edu.

Laurence Brewer, Chief Records Officer of the United States1. What led you to choose your current career in Records Management? Like many of us career records managers, it kind of chose me! My education and first jobs out of school were in the political science field; however, being a political science major in DC is not easy! I learned very quickly that I could not put food on the table at $5/hour with no benefits. So when I accepted that reality, the first company that hired me was a RIM organization.

2. What is your educational background? I have two degrees now in Political Science that I am not using at all. My parents are not very proud of that, especially since I have not been successful explaining to them what it is I actually do!

3. Do you or did you have a mentor who has helped you in the Records Management field? Actually the person I have to give credit to is Laura McHale, who when I worked for her at EPA, she encouraged me to learn more about RIM, and in particular advised me to study for and obtain my CRM designation.

4. How did you first become interested in Records Management? In my first jobs at EPA as a contractor, I developed an appreciation for the business-centric orientation of RM, especially when compared to archival practice. I enjoyed consulting, advising staff, and helping people with solutions to their RM problems.

5. What is your role at your institution? Currently, as Chief Records Officer, I lead an office of talented records managers and archivists who work with all federal agencies to advocate for and improve records management across the Government. Central to this charge is promoting electronic records management and modernizing recordkeeping practices in all agencies.

6. What do you enjoy most about your job? I enjoy the challenge of our core mission, but more than that, I enjoy the people who work with me to make these changes in the Government happen. We enjoy what we do and we have many smart, dedicated professionals who are responsible for our success.

7. What would you consider to be your career highlight or greatest success? Ask me when I retire in 20 years! I feel like the best is still to come!

8. What type of institutional settings have you worked in? Corporate? Government? Higher education? If more than one, how do they differ? My records management career started in the private sector as a federal contractor at EPA, then I took a position in RM at the state level in Virginia before joining NARA, where I have been in several positions since 1999.

9. What advice would you give to an individual considering Records Management as a career? It’s a challenging and rewarding field, but more than anything success today requires learning about more than just RM. Knowledge of many other disciplines is important to be successful and add value to your organization. Truly, an information governance approach is critical today – one that focuses on coordination and partnerships with IT, Legal, HR, security, privacy and so on. The world has gotten more complex, and so has the profession.

10. Do you belong to any professional organizations (SAA, ARMA…)? No, I do not….need to find the time, though I do attend many events sponsored by these organizations.

11. Thoughts on the future of records management? See #9

12. What do you perceive as the biggest challenges in the Records Management field? Keeping abreast of technology and the implications for RM for many of the emerging issues. Spotting trends and interpreting the impact on RM for our organizations is going to continue to be a challenge.

13. Besides focusing on work, what are some of your other interests or hobbies? Outside of work, I enjoy live music so you may run into me one night at the 930 Club!

14. Do you have a quote you live by? None at all. However, I do have a tattoo that reminds me to stay balanced and calm in how I approach life.

Follow Up to Body-Worn Camera Records Hangout

On February 8, the Records Management Section was pleased to host a Hangout with Snowden Becker of the UCLA Department of Information Studies to discuss law enforcement body-worn camera footage and recordings.

If you missed the Hangout, you can watch the recorded version here. In addition, Snowden prepared some additional readings on her website.

We had record turnout for this Hangout, and time for some excellent questions from viewers about exemptions from public records laws, transfer of recordings from devices to repositories, the role of bystander video, how vendors handle records, and differences between public and law enforcement perspectives on video recordings.

This topic is being addressed elsewhere within SAA; recently the Issues and Advocacy Section addressed the topic on their blog, and the Committee on Public Policy is currently  circulating a draft to selected SAA sections in order to prepare an issue brief on body camera footage.

 

Follow up on Open Source Hangout

Beth Cron and I had a good conversation with Seth Shaw and Jeremy Gibson about open source records management tools.  If you didn’t have a chance to join us last week, you can still view it at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1GRQBUjtOT8.

Here are some of the highlights:

  • Open source tools can be very valuable when they have a strong community around them.  This support leads to active development, which makes for a sustainable tool.  Being able to see other people’s work also provides more entry points to solving your own problem.
  • The potential downside to open source tools is that they tend to have less documentation, and there’s the potential for projects to be abandoned.
  • Seth mentioned an interview on The SIgnal about using open source tools in cultural heritage institutions.  You can find it at https://blogs.loc.gov/thesignal/2013/01/when-is-open-source-software-the-right-choice-for-cultural-heritage-organizations-an-interview-with-peter-murray/.
  • Seth has a report pending publication as part of OCLC’s Demystifying Born Digital series (http://www.oclc.org/research/publications/library/born-digital-reports.html).
  • Jeremy pointed out that one of the benefits of open source tools is that you can more easily find tools that do one thing very well — and then stitch those solutions together to accomplish all of your RM needs.
  • In answer to a query about extracting metadata from media files, Jeremy pointed to MediaInfo and JHOVE.
  • One of the particular gaps identified in existing open source tools is one to handle redactions.
  • Before adopting a records management tool, it’s important to document your functional requirements and your organizational requirements (e.g., budget, IT support).  Only then can you make sure you’re choosing the right tool for your purposes.

Towards a Social Justice in ARM bibliography

First, let’s get this out of the way: I bet Matt Yglesias feels pretty stupid right now. Hahahaha ohhhh I’m going to be depressed. (Yes, I have a political bias. I’ll try to tamp it down for this post.)

Anyway! With White House pages on key issues disappearing (though not permanently! Thanks, NARA), information lockdowns being passed down to entire agencies (at least temporarily), and the possibility of science from the EPA being subject to political review before release, one’s mind tends to drift to questions of an archivist/records manager’s ethical responsibility in an institutional setting. (Didn’t you already write this post, Brad? Yes, I did, on multiple occasions, but this one’s different, I promise.) Yes, you have a responsibility towards your institution/government/whatever, but what is your responsibility towards society? Are archivists, particularly in records management roles, obliged to serve as whistleblowers? Do we save records of historical import on our own volition, despite orders (or, at best, strongly-worded suggestions) from the Powers That Be to show them the business end of a shredder? What do we make of reports that a top advisor to the president is actively avoiding creating a paper trail?

Well. I Have Opinions about all of these things. Unfortunately for me (but fortunately for you), an official group blog for a component group of a professional organization is not the place for them. But those sublimated opinions have to go somewhere… in this case, I thought, “why not take a look at what the professional literature has to say about these issues?” I put out a Twitter call for recommendations, did some poking around on some of my library’s databases, and the result is a brand new category on the RM bibliography, which I am tentatively calling Institutional Records and Human Rights. More on this after the jump. Continue reading

2 upcoming RM Google Hangouts

The Records Management Section is planning two upcoming Google Hangouts!

The first is on Thursday, February 2 at noon Eastern on Open Source Tools for Records Management. We will be joined by Seth Shaw from Clayton State University, who will discuss the Data Accessioner, and Jeremy Gibson from the State Archives of North Carolina, who will talk about renameIT as well as setting up an AXAEM system. They will discuss the pros and cons of using open source tools — both from the developer and the user perspectives — and provide some advice about implementing them.

The second is on Wednesday, February 8 at noon Eastern and will be on the topic of police body camera footage. Snowden Becker from the UCLA Department of Information Studies will discuss the following questions: Where is the point of intersection between the evidentiary *value* of records, as an archival concept, and the records that actually constitute criminal evidence? What does the legal duty to preserve have to do with the material preservation of records in new formats like digital video, or evidentiary traces created by Internet of Things-enabled (IOT) devices? This discussion will touch on some of the parallels between records management and evidence management in public agencies. We’ll explore how police body-worn camera programs are presenting new challenges to the very definition of public records, and shining light on the widely varying practices of records creation, collection, and retention in the criminal justice system.

Be sure to tune in live to ask questions or watch later at your convenience. You can view the Open Source Hangout here and the police body camera footage Hangout here .

For both Hangouts, we’ll be accepting questions for our speakers from you.  If you have a question or topic for discussion please leave it as a comment here or use the #saarmrt hashtag on Twitter.  We will also monitor the comments on the YouTube live streaming page.

Open Source Tools

To round out this year’s look at open source tools, I want to provide an overview that can serve as a primer to the Hangout we intend to host early in 2017.  Open source software is “software with source code that anyone can inspect, modify, and enhance.”  Opensource.com goes on to provide a more expansive explanation of the purpose of open source software:

“Open source projects, products, or initiatives embrace and celebrate principles of open exchange, collaborative participation, rapid prototyping, transparency, meritocracy, and community-oriented development.”

As I noted in previous posts, NARA published a report in 2015 entitled “Open Source Tools for Records Management.”  This report points to the generally free cost of open source software and the “very robust user and developer communities that are actively working to report bugs and improve the tools” as advantages of its use.  However, this report also acknowledges (1) care must be taken to guarantee adequate security when deploying open source software and (2) customization may be required — which will probably also necessitate time and IT know-how.

Open source software differs from closed source, or proprietary, software because its code is open to all to see and change.  Although open source software is often times provided free of charge, it is not the same as freeware, which may be closed source software.  Notable open source technologies include the Linux operating system and the Apache web server application.  The Linux OS is a good example of the practice where the software is open source but the support comes with a price — such as that provided by Red Hat.  Opensource.com lists a number of reasons why developers prefer open source software:

  • control over what the software does
  • training by being able to see the source code
  • greater security due to quicker updates to address vulnerabilities
  • stability even after the original creators discontinue their work on the software

In August 2016, Wired released an article entitled “Open Source Won.  So Now What?”  This article points to the first official federal source code policy, which requires government agencies to release at least 20% of any new code as open source software.  It also acknowledges that open source development can be challenging due to lack of funding and because it’s hard to break into the field, which is increasingly being dominated by big companies.

If you’re interested in open source software, stay tuned for more blog posts and our Hangout in 2017.

Records Management Bibliography

During our annual meeting at Archives*Records 2016, the Records Management Roundtable Steering Committee debuted the new Records Management Bibliography. The reenvisioned bibliography is now in Zotero and is available for all to use and collaborate. Zotero is a free, open-source research tool that helps users collect, organize, and analyze resources and share them in a variety of ways. Zotero provides the ability to store author, title, and publication fields and to export that information as formatted references. Zotero also provide the ability to organize, tag, and search resources.

The Records Management Bibliography in Zotero builds upon the bibliography the RMRT published in 2012. By sharing the bibliography in Zotero, anyone can join the group to contribute to the resource list. It is no longer a static document.

zotero-capture

It is really easy to add resources to Zotero as you are searching the web. After you install the browser extension, Zotero can sense when you are viewing a book, article, or website and then save the reference information for that item. The Zotero Mini-Guide is an excellent resource for an introduction to Zotero and the basics of adding resources.

To contribute to the bibliography, you must first create a Zotero account. Then you can request access to join the SAA RMRT Group.

The bibliography is in a Group Library in Zotero and currently has 24 categories and over 300 resources. We hope to add, with your help, even more resources. The RMRT Steering Committee will create a process to regularly review resources to ensure they are up-to-date and will add new resources as they become available.

Please contact Beth Cron (bethany.cron@nara.gov) if you are interested in adding resources! We are looking for volunteers to review publications, such as American Archivist and Information Management magazine, to find resources to add to the bibliography.